'Bows have followed Nitoto's path


POSTED: Saturday, February 14, 2009

The smile is back.

So is Reemy time.




        Nevada (14-10, 7-4 WAC) at Hawaii (12-11, 4-7), 7 tonight, TV: KFVE, Ch. 5; Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM



Kareem Nitoto's spirits have mirrored the fortunes of the up-and-down-and-up Hawaii basketball team for most of the season. But beyond that, the sophomore point guard has turned a corner internally and is at peace with his role among the 12-11 (4-7 Western Athletic Conference) Rainbow Warriors.

In Hawaii's two blowout wins last week, Nitoto totaled a combined 33 points on 14-for-18 shooting and was a steady presence on the floor.

He chalked up his recent success to considerable family support from back in his native Bay Area of California. His older siblings, brother Muhammed Nitoto and sister Keytasher Collins, have been particularly supportive.

“;They've been keeping me focused. They always would tell me in high school, during crunch time, they used to say, 'It's Reemy time.'”; Nitoto said. “;My last few games, my brother's been calling me and telling me, 'Yeah, it's time.' My sister would call me and tell me, 'It's time.' And my teammates from (San Leandro) High School have really been supporting me throughout this season, knowing I've been going through some rough times this season.”;

It was admittedly difficult going from a score-first mentality at San Leandro two years ago to being handed the starting playmaker's role in Hawaii's intricate flex-motion offense this season. The 6-2, 185-pound Nitoto kept battling his instincts instead of letting himself go in the flow of the offense.

“;It's kind of hard for a player to go from having a green light, to having a yellow light or red light,”; the normally stoic Nitoto said with a slight grin. “;At the start of the year I felt like I really had to score a lot of points. I really wasn't shooting a good percentage ... it really wasn't right for me to be the first option and the point guard at the same time. That's just ... I've been in a mentality of being a scorer my whole life.”;

He's averaged 6.4 points on 38.4 percent shooting with 3.2 assists this season, numbers much lower than what he was used to or expects of himself. But a single shot—and pass—in front of family turned things around for him last month.

It was at home on Jan. 5 against Louisiana Tech. With the Rainbows' backs against the wall in the final minutes, he nailed a clutch 3-pointer from the top of the arc—his first of the season and only points of the game—and soon after threaded a pass to Bill Amis for the game-winning jumper and the team's first WAC victory.

His father, Kwame, and younger brother, Kwame Jr., were in the Stan Sheriff Center crowd.

“;That really picked me up, I needed them to come over here,”; Nitoto said. “;That's when I started turning my season around. It just started rising from there, I really haven't looked back since then.”;

His play has improved considerably under a simplified UH offense and since being paired with fellow point Hiram Thompson on the court simultaneously, a combination Hawaii coach Bob Nash has used increasingly in recent games.

It's allowed the defensive-minded Nitoto to focus on stopping opponents' best guards without having to shoulder the bulk of the playmaker duties. That was illustrated best in Nitoto's lockdown of Idaho point guard Mac Hopson, who was flustered into a season-low five points with three assists against six turnovers in UH's 71-49 win.

“;Putting him and Hiram in the game at the same time, that gives Hiram a break because he doesn't have to guard the toughest point guard. Kareem can guard him,”; Nash said. “;So they play off each other. It's been a healthy situation for us.”;

The often-expressionless Nitoto showed some rare emotion in the game against the Vandals, raising his fists and leaping after big baskets. He does his best to keep an even keel, but acknowledged that even he isn't immune to the rush of the moment.

“;No, I'm not, I'm not,”; he said. “;Sometimes I let the emotions get the best of me, but I try to keep it in a positive way. I try not to let the emotions get me too down, or let them get me too hyped up at times, because I'm a point guard out there and my team's going to feed off of me.”;

Whatever personal struggles Nitoto went through earlier this season couldn't really compare to the culture of drugs and violence he survived as a youth in West Oakland. He learned from some of the mistakes made by his parents and older siblings, and now constantly reminds himself to keep things in perspective.

“;It's not bad at all,”; he said. “;This season, I'll take every moment like it's my last, 'cause where I'm from it can definitely be your last moment at any given second. I just gotta thank God for every second I have in Hawaii, and I'm just going to make the most of it. I'm not going to look back on anything and say that I made the wrong choices or whatever, because without all those bad games that I played, I wouldn't be having these good games now.”;